Safe Core Work To Do During Pregnancy

Abs and pregnancy: To work or not to work? What’s safe and what’s not? Pre & post-natal Pilates expert, Andrea Speir discusses.

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These are all questions I hear quite frequently as a prenatal fitness professional. Well I’m here to tell you that you can ABsolutely (pun intended) work those core muscles, and more than that, you should! With all core work, and any fitness in general, you want to listen to your body first and foremost. Your body could be very different than someone else’s at the same stage so don’t ignore it if it doesn’t feel right. Each body is unique.

From about 16 weeks and on, lying on your back and doing extreme crunching and twisting is contraindicated. As the core muscles begin to get tighter and stretched, you don’t want to overly work this area. That could lead to something called Diastasis Recti, which is essentially a splitting of the abdominal muscles. If that does happen there are ways to cinch it back so don’t fret, but we try to avoid that of course since we can.

Lying flat on your back is also something we cut out at around this time, since the weight of your uterus is a lot on your organs and it becomes tricky for circulation. The good news is there are many exercises that keep you propped up slightly, on your side or even standing.

These exercises below can be done throughout your entire pregnancy and will get your core strong and feeling gently stretched out during your pregnancy, helping you to push during labor and recover after your sweet baby is here.


Safe Core work pilates moves 


Move 1: Half Roll Down



Reps: 10x/1 set Action :

  1. Place a pillow behind back and have a seat with knees bent and feet flat, holding behind thighs
  2. Keeping a round shape with spine, begin to straighten arms and curl backward
  3. Bend elbows and round body back forward

Focus: Think about hugging your baby gently with abdominal muscles and engaging pelvic floor (How do you engage your pelvic floor? Imagine holding your pee!)

Benefit: This controlled action safely strengthens every part of your abdominals without adding undue pulling or “whipping” with the core. This helps strengthen the deep transverse abs which will come into play during labor as well as in recovery post-baby.


Move 2: Frogs propped up


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Reps: 15x/ 1 set Action:

  1. Keep knees bent and feet flat on floor with pillow behind back, but now prop up yourself up on your forearms
  2. Lift legs to a 60 degree angle with knees bent in and heels together with toes apart.
  3. Extend out to straight legs
  4. Bend legs back in

Focus: Focus still on “hugging” your baby with your core vs. deeply scooping ab muscles in. Keep chest open and tailbone curled under. There shouldn’t be any arch in your back throughout the whole exercise!

Benefit: The gravitational weight shifts on the legs extending out and in challenge and strengthen the core muscles in a truly dynamic way, while again not overexerting these already stretched muscles.


Move 3: Single Leg Diamond Raises


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Reps: 10x/leg Action:

  1. Stay in ending position from Move 2 (propped up on elbows with knees bent in, heels together toes apart)
  2. Extend legs halfway out and open into diamond shape (heels together and knees open just wider than shoulders)
  3. Lower one leg toward mat
  4. Lift leg back up
  5. Repeat 10x and then switch legs

Focus: Still gently engage core muscles and make sure the tailbone is curled under and chest is open.

Benefit: Lowering and lifting just one leg helps to target the obliques a bit more- these are the muscles that connect in the back and wrap around the sides of the core, essentially helping to cinch the waist. The obliques are very important when pushing during labor, so keeping them active during pregnancy is key.


MOVE 4: Side Plank


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 Reps: 30 seconds/side Action:
  1. Come onto your side with one hand flat on the ground, the other arm reaching up toward the sky and both legs straight and stacked one on top of the other.
  2. Lift hips high and focus on engaging the bottom side of your core, your obliques.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds on one side and then switch sides

Modification: If this feels like too much pressure anywhere in your body, bend that bottom leg and place it down on the mat. This will help support your body- now focus on lifting those bottom ribs to continue the core engagement.

Focus: Lift bottom ribs up toward ceiling actively throughout exercise, this will help active the obliques and keep them from popping out!

Why: This is the best daily exercise to maintain during your pregnancy as it will help cinch and strengthen these hugely important oblique muscles. Not only do they play a huge role during pushing in labor, but they help support your back as the weight begins to grow in the front of your body during pregnancy.


Move 5: Standing crunch



Reps: 15x Action:

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart and hands stacked palm over palm behind head
  2. Soften knees just an inch or so (to prevent locking the knees)
  3. Round body forward, looking toward your baby (elbows stay wide)
  4. Roll body back up

Focus: As you curl forward, hug your baby with your core muscles, and as you roll back up engage them just a bit more. Think about growing tall and strong and your body will listen.

Benefit: This is a fantastic way to get your body to essentially do a crunch without having the weight of your baby pushing down on your organs and uterus, and it’s fantastic for your circulation. This is the best sit-up style modification and is safe to do throughout the duration of your pregnancy.


Move 6: Side to Side Twists



Reps: 15x/side Action:

  1. Keep hands stacked behind head and step feet out wider than hips with feet slightly turned out
  2. Bend knees
  3. Twist body down toward one side (think elbow to hip)
  4. Return center keeping knees bent
  5. Twist to the other side
  6. Return to center keeping knees bent

Focus: Keep chest open and elbows wide. As you twist side to side, think about lengthening out vs. crunching in.

Benefit: This is another fantastic way to stretch, elongate and strengthen the side of the core, or the obliques. The added stretch element is so necessary as the body carries more weight during pregnancy and will help with circulation as well. Doing core work standing is the best choice as it is difficult to get up and down and won’t make you as dizzy as doing core work down low.


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